Stones River

Stones River has been on my radar for many years. I recall first reading of it when I was a lad and obtained a book from the local library. Today, I was joined by Eric, another wargamer and Murfreesboro resident, on a tour of the battlefield.

Only a portion of the historic battlefield is today part of the park, and that in two parts. These two parts comprise the Union centre and a portion of the Union left. It took me sometime to orientate but I found the most useful references were the old Nashville Pike which remains a public road and the historic path of McFadden’s Lane, a small road that runs north south within the park. Both are shown on historic maps and the excellent maps on the American Battlefield Trust website, though McFadden’s Lane is often not named.

If you visit the park a have some pointers. On arriving of course go to the Park Visitor Centre, collect a copy of the driving tour. In addition make sure you download the OnCell Park Service App for your mobile phone. Further, download the Battle Trust App, or ideally print the four maps prior to your visit. I found the combination of all important for my interpretation of Stones River.

The tour driving path comprises just six driving stops but they are logical. However, interpretation signage is limited so your maps are important. Now, to my actual visit.

Above, two guns from Palmer’s Battery. Initially on the 31st December 1862 they were in the area of Hazen’s Union Brigade. Later they would form the south corner of the Union line which is aptly described as a pocket knife that is being closed. The eight guns were to engage the enemy for four hours from around this position, reorienting during the course of the battle.

Charles Parsons, commanding the battery writes: “At about 8am our infantry came falling back through the pinewoods… our batteries were swung around and bought into action… when he arrived within about 300 yards we opened on his first line… [with] canister… the enemy fell back beyond our view. He reappeared shortly afterward to our left, but again, receiving our fire, fell back beyond our view… At about 12 [noon] just as I had nearly given out of ammunition, I received orders…to retire.”

Further down McFadden Lane you will come to the Slaughter Pen. This area is larger than I expected and clearly provided an ideal defensive position for Miller’s Brigade.

Above and below views of the Slaughter Pen, both viewed from a Union perspective.

As the Union right collapsed the troops defending the Slaughter Pen provided valuable time for the Union line to form along the Nashville Pike. In fact the Union right had moved to a position almost 90 degrees to its original position. In between the Union line and the Confederates was the Cotton field. Here a few photos capture the views.

Above the view from Confederate lines looking out towards the Union lines now formed along the Nashville Pike. The Union infantry line was reinforced by some 38 Union cannon. The park brochure notes a Texan recollection “the artillery opened up on us… and it seemed that the heavens and earth were coming together”

Above, the view from the Union line, just in front of the historic Nashville Pike. While below a view from across the pike where much of the Union artillery was deployed. This shows a slight rise in the ground. It is very open here!

Further along the Union line, parallel with the Nashville Pike, we come to the area held by the Union Pioneer Brigade and the Chicago Board of Trade Battery. The Confederate Brigades of Ector and Harper attacked here. For clarity we are slightly northwest of the Cotton Field now.

From around noon the advancing Rebels conducted three attacks. Despite at one point advanced to within 50 yards the attacks were held by the Union forces. The battery here fired some 1300 rounds during the afternoon action.

Above and below, further photos of the Chicago Board of Trade Battery.

The park tour now moves south east and across the Nashville Pike to the Round Wood or Hell’s Half Acre. From the location of the photo below Hazen’s Union Brigade stretched to the left, across the railway line that marks the park boundary. From here the Union line was extended further by Wagner’s Brigade to the banks of Stones River.

The combination of the river and deployment creating what the maps indicate is a funnel into which the Rebels advanced. The visuals of this location, above, are unfortunately reduced as it sits on the edge of the park with the main wood to the rear.

The final tour stop is across the rail line in a different sector of the park, and again on the park edge. Here on the high ground another massed Union gun line decimated the Confederate attack on the 2nd January 1863. Initially the Confederate attack was successful in driving Union troops from the east side of Stones River.

Today, at least on my visit, long grass and trees obscures the historic Union gun line from the Rebels who advanced on the east side of Stones River. The historic gun line is behind this position.

Thomas Crittenden, commanding the Union Left Wing wrote: “The sound judgement of Major John Medenhall, my chief-of artillery, enabled me to open 58 guns almost simultaneously… turn[ing] a dashing [rebel] charge into a sudden retreat and rout, in which the enemy lost… 1800 men in a few moments… The very forest seemed to fall… and not a Confederate reached the river.”

Well that summarises my visit to Stones River today, and a very interesting visit it was. On a side note, for those interested, I posted a few photos of a refight of Stones River which I participated in a couple of weeks ago in Nashville. You can find it here.

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5 thoughts on “Stones River

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. Hazen, Sheridan and the Union arty were the rocks on which the Union situation was saved at Stones River. But, we all know who the real hero was. Nathan.Bedford. Forrest. 🙂

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